Rebel with a cause: Kelli Jean Drinkwater

Rebel with a cause: Kelli Jean Drinkwater

Stay woke

Text: Noelle Faulkner

From body image to self-worth, politics, culture, gender and beyond, there’s more than one way to send a message. In this series, Noelle Faulkner talks to four artists pushing against the grain in their own way.

Sydney's Kelli Jean Drinkwater is a performer, artist, dancer, model, filmmaker, sound curator, theatre maker and activist - and an empowered one at that. You may have seen her TEDxSydney talk, "Enough With the Fear of Fat", her film Aquaporko!, which scored official selection in 38 film festivals globally, or, if you're in Sydney, you may have heard about her Sydney Festival Force Majeure collaboration, Nothing to Lose (which she is currently making a documentary about). Focusing on body autonomy, fat politics and our obsession with body image as a society, Drinkwater's cannon of work is often wonderfully provoking and radical to the masses, as she confronts cultural perceptions of the body, our identity and the labels we give ourselves and each other. Unapologetically, of course.

AQUAPORKO! Throw you legs in the air without a care! from Kelli Jean Drinkwater on Vimeo.


What does your work mean to you?

I tend to make work from the land of my lived experience as a queer fat femme performer. My fatness and my queerness are very interlinked in my identity. My work is formed by feminist politics and queer theory, the idea of "queering the body" and what that means in terms of gender, size, class and race and ability, and all those different intersections.


What makes you want to explore this idea of body politics?

It's such an insidious, systematic form of oppression, really, fat phobia and body shaming. It's so ingrained in our culture and quite often hard for people to even notice when they're doing it, to themselves, or each other. Body politics affects every single human being. I don't think that you could point to one person that hasn't had some sort of relationship with their physicalities that wasn't a challenge at some point in their life. I'd like you to show me that person, I don't think they exist.


What do you aim to wake in your audience? 

Ideally, I'd like to provoke a reflection on how people perceive their own bodies, other people's bodies and how we treat each other. If I can prick people's ears up to think about maybe why we, as a culture, are so obsessed with this billion dollar diet industry, the way we look and the weight of our worth, if I can kind of provoke a dialogue with people, have them question that, especially with themselves, that'd be it. 


When did you last put up a fight for your work?

It was interesting doing [Sydney Festival/Carriageworks commissioned dance performance] Nothing to Lose. We did a lot of prep around this idea of fighting for our right to be seen as "fat dancers"- which was a joke to most people. The show was a very provocative one in that sense because people thought we were making a comedy show! That's where it was interesting, this idea of what's permissible to fat bodies and what labels we're allowed to give ourselves as performers. We quite often had to clarify that, no it wasn't comedy or circus or cabaret. It was dance. People were very curious about whether we'd pull it off, if we could sustain it in an hour and a half show. We really had to fight to be taken seriously in that context.

Kelli Jean Drinkwater is currently working on an independent documentary on the cast of her Sydney Festival show, Nothing to Lose. 

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